America has a history with odd popular music. From Parry Gripp to Weird Al to Ray Stevens to the Monster Mash and before, funny tunes just “hit” every once in a while, brightening people’s moods for a little while.
That does nothing to explain the sudden popularity of Jerry Buckner & Gary Garcia, though, and their gold-record single, Pac-Man Fever.
Released in 1982, it traveled up the record charts, peaking at #9 on Billboard. Upon casual perusal, there’s nothing particularly amazing about this. “Junk Food Junkie” by Larry Groce made it to #9, too. They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haa made it to #2 in 1966.
What makes Pac-Man Fever distinctive for a novelty hit is that, for most of the target audience, the song wasn’t perceived as humor. It was simply an ode to a video game.
Video games were a fairly new industry and they were booming at the time. Arcades were cropping up in cities and towns throughout the country, and people were abuzz with the debate between the two “next-gen” home console systems, the Colecovision and the Atari 5200. It’s difficult to imagine a better time for a video game song to be released. Buckner & Garcia recognized the market and targeted it.
Based on their prior efforts, it’s obvious that they were trying for humor. They’d had a semi-successful recording that was more than a little reminiscent of Monster Mash, “Merry Christmas in the NFL“, years before.
That was ignored, however, in favor of making money. In the long-standing tradition of milking a moment of success for everything it’s worth, the duo put out an entire album comprised of nothing but video game odes.
Froggy’s Lament. Do the Donkey Kong. Goin’ Berserk. Even the relatively forgotten Mousetrap game got a song.
Thankfully, the album was a critical and popular failure. If it hadn’t been, we’d have likely been regaled with later songs like “Q-Bert in the Sky with Boxes” and “Love in an Elevator Action”.
Still, they had their gold record, which is more than many people earn.
Question of the night: What coin-op games, if any, did you play?